Duck, duck, goose: The real story behind the Duck Dynasty uproar

Duck, duck, goose: The real story behind the Duck Dynasty uproar December 20, 2013

The whole Duck Dynasty imbroglio comes down to this: Phil Robertson blasphemed one of the few gods our culture really worships, sexual liberation and unfettered self-expression. Robertson did it with all the class of white trash (his phrase) and that made it more off-putting than it might otherwise have been, but he was walking into a propeller blade no matter how he said it.

Phil Robertson

It is not a free speech issue. No one’s speech has been hampered by the state. It’s a moral fight. We’re just as moralistic as we’ve always been — hence calls for Robertson’s head. It’s just the moral landscape is in a state of flux. What is widely received in some quarters is despised in others, and Robertson is (no surprise here) not terribly savvy about how to proceed.

Open gay writers like Camille Paglia and Brandon Ambrosino have come to Robertson’s defense. They realize the larger problem is not that Robertson is a Philistine or that he hates gays. It’s that we lack any ability to publicly talk about this continental drift in morality.

Along those lines, TV critic James Poniewozik has so far offered the best analysis of the story:

When a media figure gets suspended for making an offensive statement, the tricky thing often is figuring out which part of it he or she got suspended for. . . . Was [Phil Robertson] suspended for believing that being gay is a sin? For saying it out loud? For saying it in those terms?

In TV, writers talk about getting notes from the network to ‘make the subtext text.’ That is, rather than be subtle, or hint at the meaning of a scene or dialogue without saying it in so many words, you need to make it clear so that nobody in your audience misses it. Robertson got in trouble, for once in TV history, for making the subtext text — for being explicit about the conservative Christianity that, when it was subtext, was a selling point for him and for his show.

The show works in part because the Robertsons are outspoken Christians, but there has been tension with A&E on that front from the beginning. We tolerate them so long as they are Christians to a point or in a certain way — which is to say moral declarations that run counter to the newly prevailing mood are tolerated so long as they only come in winks and nods. Beyond that, hiatus. Either way, of course, we’ll cash the checks.

Was Robertson crass, unkind, unthoughtful? Sure, that and more. Could others have expressed things better? No doubt. But we’re missing the story if we focus on him. The real story is the changing moral landscape, where things are moving fast and few (me included) seem to have the skills or resources for the conversation.

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  • kevin kirkpatrick

    Good article Joel. I haven’t read the GQ article, and probably won’t, but I like your take on this even. One thing is sure, is that when A&E brings him back on the show in 6 months, it will have proven an effective device to drive ratings. I look at this cynically, because ratings and advertisers are the only real God’s A&E bows down to. I doubt they could care less about what Phil, but are purely worried about losing sponsors, since they know their core audience is in sympathy with Phil’s beliefs.

    • Joel J. Miller

      You’re right about A&E.

    • Marsha Marks

      Good point!

  • Well said.

    In my lifetime, I have seen American society shift from thinking that homosexuality was a sin to thinking that homosexuality is righteousness and homophobia is a sin. Moreover, “homeophobia” wasn’t even in our lexicon a generation ago.

    Of course, the moral decline has been much broader and deeper than this single flashpoint issue. Moral corruption has been pervasive. I have to woefully wonder when the angels last observed a nation’s moral quotient decline so precipitously.

    The answer does not lie, however, in our nation returning to God – at least not initially. What must happen first is that Christians must return to Christ.

    • Don’t forget the monument in our nation’s capital dedicated to eternal hostility towards the clergy’s schemes[1] to establish tyranny over the mind of man with their demonic[2] Hell-Torture dogma derived from Greek supernatural[3,4] mythology. Yes, it’s time to return to Jesus, to his ethical teachings, minus the corruptions.[5,6]

      1.”The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes, & they [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: & enough too in their opinion, & this is the cause of their printing lying pamphlets against me…” ~Thomas Jefferson, letter to Benjamin Rush, September 23, 1800

      2. “I can never join Calvin in addressing his god. He was indeed an Atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was Daemonism. If ever man worshipped a false god, he did.” ~Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823

      3. “…I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel, and themselves Christians and preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what it’s Author never said nor saw. they have compounded from the heathen mysteries a system beyond the comprehension of man…” ~Thomas Jefferson, letter to Charles Thomson, January 9, 1816

      4. “The euthanasia of platonic christianity: Thomas Jefferson, Plato, religion and human freedom.” Gregory Lawrence Knittel, San Jose State University 1993.

      5. “To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other.” ~Thomas Jefferson, letter to Benjamin Rush, May 21, 1803

      6. “Of this band of dupes and impostors, Paul was the great Corypheus, and first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus.” ~Thomas Jefferson (Jefferson’s Works, Vol. ii., p. 217)


        Brian Bowman is a troll of the highest order who will, if permitted, dominate any conversation going on and fill it with nearly incoherent, long, ramblings quotations of Thomas Jefferson whom he idolizes and after whom he has fashioned a “Jefferson religion.”


        You have been warned.

        • Joel J. Miller

          Nothing (much) against Jefferson, but thanks for that.

          • I too am thankful—thankful for knowing how spiteful Lutheran ministers can be when they lose arguments.

  • Susan Honeycutt

    imbroglio – great word. Sums up your point supremely.

    • Joel J. Miller